Gangtok: With over 3,000 active COVID-19 cases and 50 plus COVID deaths in May in Sikkim, the spread of the virus in Sikkim is at an all-time high. Amidst the pandemic, journalists trying to bring the news to the public have, however, are not being considered frontline workers. Despite asking the state government a year ago, it seems nothing has been done yet.
As part of the first wave, many journalists tested positive, yet they carried on with their work. Similarly, since January 16, when the nationwide vaccination was announced, everyone waited for their turn. It was evident that health workers were the priority, followed by sanitation workers and police personnel. Civilians were prioritised by their age group, while many journalists were inoculated during the age-wise phase. Sikkim consists of predominantly journalists below the age of 45.
The struggle of the majority has been time and again swept below the carpet by the government. It has not been a case of matter not reaching the authorities, Health Minister MK Sharma was informed about the demand in a press conference at STNM Hospital earlier this month. Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay was also informed about the same when he was taking stock of the COVID Care Centre at Paljor Stadium.
All this while, journalists have covered stories after stories, sometimes with these aforementioned ministers as well as getting close with COVID-positive patients, bringing about their struggles. But the state government has neither declared journalists to be either the frontline workers or got them inoculated on a priority basis.
Representatives of the Press Club of Sikkim have written to the Health Principal Secretary on May 10 with the demand for vaccination, wherein it stated, “Journalists, especially those reporting from the field, put themselves at risk every time they step out to keep Sikkim informed. This task qualifies journalists to be counted as frontline workers when it comes to the current pandemic since they are frequently at risk of contracting the virus because of the nature of the jobs, which everyone agrees is an essential service in these times”.
But, when a complete lockdown was declared on May 14, State Government conveniently neglected media persons in their notification to have been involved in essential services. The same not sitting well with the fraternity, many argued, “what if we are stopped by cops while travelling”. While others lamented, “the government doesn’t even consider us as essential service providers so what is the point in covering various activities of the government. We must boycott all together”.
But media houses are troubled when there is no news to cover, it just isn’t part of the job description. After phone calls to the State Home Department, Principal Secretary R. Telang admitted to the mistake and clarified, that “accredited journalists will be allowed and be considered as essential service providers on May 15”.
Earlier in the day, the Journalists Union of Sikkim led by senior journalist and President Bhim Rawat held a meeting with the entire press fraternity, pressing on the demand that journalists must be considered as frontline warriors. He stated, “Journalists cannot work from home, and have put their lives and health at risk daily to cover both the Covid-19 pandemic and other matters of public concern, including matters critical to health and safety of the public, and critical to our democracy, so journalists should be declared as frontline worker”.
Furthermore, when the demand was presented again in front of health and home Secretaries, the answer received by the fraternity was “It’s in the pipeline”.
Most in the fraternity have expressed their concern about being left out of the vaccination and the second-hand treatment on ‘ frontline workers’. Many have quoted examples of how vaccination for journalists was carried out in States like West Bengal, Delhi, Assam and even Tripura among many others.